Archive for April, 2011

Artists, Gurus, and Other Animals

Posted in Uncategorized on April 16, 2011 by dorselanpher

It is said that the trait which sets human beings apart from all other animals is an algebraic mentality. That is the ability to formulate, share and comprehend abstract symbols. Artists are good at that, an arrow pointing in a specific direction to follow, a green light indicating that one is to move forward, or the little silhouette of a man or woman on the restroom door, are examples of abstract symbols. These are just a few of the many. Even the letters you are reading here are abstract symbols, just squiggles in your eye, which as a part of our culture; we have learned to understand that the squiggles combine as an expression of ideas.

I’ve wondered if animals really lack the ability to work with symbols. Chimpanzees seem to have a kind of culture of their own. Some of them use sticks to dig termites out of the termite mound. That stick, as it lies on the ground, is not useful to the chimp unless that chimp sees it as more than a stick lying on the ground. Can a stick be a symbol? Does the chimp see the stick as an abstract symbol? Are the chimps teaching each other? That chimp has to connect all of the thoughts of food, termites, and tools useful for obtaining termites as food. It must mentally convert that stick on the ground from a stick idea to a tool idea. Is the tool a symbol for food? Other animals, including birds, and sea otters, also have the ability to discover objects to use as tools.

I find this all so interesting that it has inspired me to work with my cat, Maryann. I’m trying to teach her to learn an abstract symbol. I’ve been trying to teach her to look in a particular direction when I gesture by pointing with my index finger; in this case my finger is an abstract symbol, an arrow. I want to say she is a slow learner but I think cats know what they want to learn and not learn. They seem to have a lot going on in their little heads and are very discriminating.

Each time I begin Maryann’s lesson on abstract symbols, I call her name, and using my manly right index finger, I sternly point in a particular direction and announce a verbal clue, “Look”! Each time I do this, every time, rather than to make an attempt to understand my abstract symbol and look in the direction that my pointing finger indicates, Maryann insists on sniffing the  end of my finger. I guess she is trying to teach me that my pointing finger is her symbol to sniff.

That reminds me of the philosopher Alan W. Watts. To paraphrase Watts from one of his many books, my memory has lost the exactness of his words; he spoke of a spiritual leader who pointed The Way, The Way being a virtuous path to follow for a useful, fulfilling life. Watt’s used the pointing finger as a symbol when speaking of pointing the way and said the people choose to suck the spiritual leader’s finger for comfort rather than follow The Way. Watts point was, to have a belief, to be aware of the way, was enough for the followers, to put the belief into action, to learn to live honorably required some work. Much like Maryann sniffing my finger, which is less work than actually trying to figure out what I meant by pointing. And it must be comforting for her to sniff my finger, secure in knowing that I’m on the other end of it, able to meet her demand to feed her and scratch her tummy.

In his book, The Road Less Traveled, written by M. Scott Peck, M.D., Scott makes the point that “the road less traveled” is a metaphor for the self discovery that we, as people, must do to assure ourselves a fulfilling and useful life, and he felt there were fewer people on that road. Scott’s book is his symbolic finger pointing down that road, the road which requires hard work for achieving results and a rewarding life.

I have participated in therapy groups where it seemed to me that a larger percentage of the people there, rather than being honest in an effort to improve their position in life, were there to enjoy the immediate gratification of the comfort the social life provided,  to symbolically suck the pointing finger, so to speak. Fewer people seemed to take the hard, road less traveled, for solving their problems than those who were there to socialize. The social folks seemed to be lacking the honesty, discipline and motivation, to do the work required to learn the reasons for the chaos in their lives. They appeared unable to discover a fulfilling life and seemed intent on avoiding the work required  to learn what would keep them from becoming someone else’s burden.

Now my cat Maryann, as a cat, seems to know what she needs and doesn’t need. I don’t think she feels a need for abstract symbols or to know The Way, she already knows her way so she sniffs my finger. Her life is complete without the symbols. Maybe, rather than bother her, I should just make sure I’m one of those folks on the road less traveled. Doing the work which assures me of a life fulfilled, so I’m useful to myself and others, including Maryann. And Maryann will just continue to be everything she needs to be for herself and me, an innocent spirit; a cat.


Good versus Evil

Posted in Uncategorized on April 3, 2011 by dorselanpher

It was one day in the past, a day during one of those many years as I was working for Walt Disney, I was meandering down the hallway of the Walt Disney Flower Street animation building in Glendale. The building which animation had been exiled to after Roy had brought in Eisner and the gang and before the new animation building was constructed for animation on Riverside Drive in Burbank. On the walls were displayed a series of some black and white photos of Disney history. They were photos of story meetings which Walt was having with his story men. For some reason, (I’ll spare you the details here but there was the mustache), the picture of Walt reminded me of Adolf Hitler. Now before you allow yourself to mentally fumble through a frightening conspiratorial avalanche of crazy conclusions hear me out. Seeing those photos began a cascade of curious thoughts cavorting through my brain. I was filled with thoughts of how it could be that those two men, who, as young men, had aspirations as artists, and eventually had such a different, opposite, and enormous impact on the world. To align just some of their history makes an interesting study in the curious world of happenstance and reminds us to be protective of good and vigilant of the malevolent forces in the world.

Walt Disney’s was born in 1901. As a youngster he had an early interest in art which inspired him to sell drawings to neighbors. His parents moved to Chicago when he was a teen and in 1917 he began art classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and continued living with his parents. Adolf Hitler was born in 1889. It was about the time Disney was selling drawings to his neighbors that Hitler, in 1907, hoping to establish his career in art, applied at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. He was severely thwarted when he was rejected. He continued to live in Vienna and apparently had no desire to find employment. His life there was unproductive and he became homeless when his savings ran out. He then discovered he could earn a meager living selling pictures of famous Vienna landmarks which he copied from postcards.

WWI began in 1914 and Hitler, to avoid being drafted into the Austrian Army went back to Germany and joined the German military. He was wounded in 1917 and was sent to Berlin. Disney, in 1918, rejected by the military, joined the Red Cross to help in the war effort. He was sent to France to be an ambulance driver.

At the end of WWI, Hitler, very disappointed in Germany’s humiliating defeat, became a noticeable participant in Germany’s politics; he had been an avid reader through those years in Vienna and politically inclined. In 1921 Hitler, after much promoting, politicking, and speech making, was appointed leader of the Nazi party, he was 32 years old. Disney, 13 years younger than Hitler, had moved to Kansas City Missouri, to become a political cartoonist.

Two years after Hitler became head of the Nazi party the Disney brothers, Walt and Roy, already selling films of their cartoons, had moved to Los Angeles, California, to find gold in them there Hollywood hills. By 1925 their Disney Brother’s Studio was becoming more successful. They changed their name to Walt Disney Company and was now in a larger studio in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles.

By 1932 the Disney brothers were being noticed for their work. The Academy of Motion picture Arts and Sciences honored Walt Disney with a special award for the creation of Mickey Mouse. The Academy also gave Disney two Oscars for the Best Short Subject, Mickey’s Orphans and Flowers and Trees.

A year later, January, 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and in March of that year he became dictator of Germany. In 1934 Disney won a best Short Subject for Three Little Pigs. Between 1932 and 1939 the Walt Disney Company had won six Oscars and Hitler was beginning to implement his plan for taking over the world.

Hitler, in 1938, moved his troops into Austria and in 1939 by force, occupied Poland. Walt Disney was planning a new, bigger better, home for his artists.

In 1940, Disney’s Los Angeles Hyperion Avenue studio had out grown its space and Hitler thought he had out grown his. He invaded, and took control of France that year as Disney moved his people into the new studio built on 51 acres on Riverside Drive in Burbank, California. Land purchased with the profits from what had been called Disney’s folly, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

As time moved on, Hitler’s downfall was in the making as he underestimated the weather and his resources. Russia was going to be a prize for him but it turned out to be the beginning of the end. When the war ended in 1945 and Hitler was defeated. Untold millions of people had had their homes, their lives and their love ones destroyed in the most malicious ways by Hitler’s puzzling evil.

Walt Disney was 44 years old when the war was over. Disney continued in his role as an up lifter of the world’s spirits and a positive contributor to the world of entertainment. The studio he established in his 65 years continues as a powerful force in the field of entertainment. It has won many Oscars and awards and brought joy to untold millions with his art, his movies and his theme parks. His memory and his contribution to good has become an irremovable part of the world’s history.

Two young men, artists, who both inhabited the world at the same time. One, Adolf, represented an ugly, violent, malevolent evil and the other, Walt, was a messenger of enormous good will and a deliverer to the world a celebration of beauty and joy.